Perfume Review : Ambre Fétiche : My Lilac Wine

Ambre Fétiche, Annick Goutal, Favourite French Things, French Perfume, Perfume Reviews

This is the extended version of my review of Ambre Fétiche that was recently posted at Ca Fleure Bon.

Ambers are that rare sort of perfume that deliver the right mix of thrill, love, comfort and familiarity for me. I really feel that I’ve found my happy place with that radiant, warm golden glow. There are other fragrant friends now of course but ambers were my first true love. You remember them. They have a place. They are etched into memory. As Malcolm Gladwell would say they are sticky.

I like many an amber but there are only a few that I’m more than just fond of. Unfortunately in this day and age they can come across as generic as increasing numbers are launched in a paint by numbers, tick the box style.  But there are some beauties out there waiting to be discovered. I like a range of ambers from the caramelised  sweetness of Hermes L’Ambre des Merveilles to the pumped up vanilla plushness of Thierry Mugler‘s Alien Essence Absolue.


However there are a few ambers that I’m more than just fond of. I’m thinking of the nectary, sweet, thick, herbal Ambre Sultan from Serge Lutens. Surely this was an innovative if not groundbreaking perfume at the time of its release in 2000. It still smells great but no longer smells as unique as it probably once did due to the flood of niche ambers.  Oh how I love the oriental, lush Serge creations and wish he would summon another from the capable hands of Christopher Sheldrake.  Andy Tauer’s L’Air du Desert Marocain, that dry paean to the Moroccan desert is another that I adore. Ambre Russe from Parfum d’Empire is the other amber I’m strongly drawn to. It’s a deeply boozy, spiced up drunken Rasputin of a perfume. Perfect for a slightly out of control Let’s Go Crazy sort of evening.  As much as I passionately love these amber greats, I do have to be in the right mood to wear them though or they can feel a little overdone.


The amber perfume that I have an irrational devotion to is Annick Goutal’s Ambre Fétiche. This perfume just gets me. Wearing this for me is akin to the feeling you get when you see an old friend after an absence and everything just slots into place. There are no awkward hesitations, pauses or forced conversation. Everything just flows naturally like it has always done. The feeling is so right, it’s as if you’ve come home to that perfect place. It’s deliciously perfect and feels as if Isabelle Doyen and Camille Goutal made it just for me.

It’s one of the best perfumes in Goutal’s vast array of gems and my favourite, although I am finding that Mon Parfum Chéri par Camille is stealthily gaining a hold on me. Interestingly the house of Annick Goutal seems to be known for its pretty, feminine florals or Eau de Colognes, yet that’s not the whole story. In fact there are a broad range of perfumes in the collection and there is something to attract those who are looking for a touch of the unusual or decadent as well as light, fresh fragrances.

annick goutal and daugher

Annick with Camille

Annick Goutal was a woman who turned her hand to many different pursuits until she struck gold with perfume. She studied piano and worked in London where she became acquainted with celebrated photographer David Bailey. Some sources say she worked as an au pair for his family, others say that she was spotted by him. Either way with his encouragement she began a brief career as an international model. After this she turned her hand to antiques before finding her place in the perfume business.  Even though Annick Goutal died in 1999, her house continues under the stewardship of her daughter Camille and Isabelle Doyen who Annick had collaborated with since 1986.

les orientalistes

Ambre Fétiche was released in 2007 as part of a collection called Les Orientalistes.  The other perfumes in the range are Encens Flamboyant, Musc Nomade and Myrrhe Ardente. By the time I tried them Myrrhe Ardente had been removed from the collection and unfortunately I still haven’t managed to sniff this one. Of the three I have tried, without exception they are all interesting perfumes that don’t fall into the pretty floral category. Not that there’s anything wrong with that classification, as I happen to like these sorts of fragrances as well. But it just goes to show that there is more to the Annick Goutal range than may initially meet the eye. Encens Flamboyant is an interesting incense; it’s cold, piney and has a slightly unfriendly edge. It’s not the one for me – it’s a bit chilly.  Musc Nomade is a velvety smooth musk (and I can actually smell this one, often they pass me by as I’m anosmic to many of the musk formulations) with a hint of rose. Nice, but again it wasn’t my perfume.  As I said Ambre Fétiche is the one for me.

My advice is to be generous with the application of this one. Don’t be a wuss and dab it on. That just won’t hit the spot. This amber works best with two sprays, or more if that’s your thing. This is when it jolts to life, takes shape and morphs into something akin to a chameleon. I’m not sure why but different facets appear or remove themselves from each wearing. It’s also a perfume that covers many bases. It can feel by turns tender, potent, comforting and erotic and this all encompassing flexibility seems fitting for a wide range of occasions and moods.

klimt again 2

The opening of Ambre Fétiche always grabs me with its slightly dusty cocoa vibe. It has a strong patchouli facet up front that reminds me of Mon Parfum Chéri with its musty mix of patchouli and iris. There is also a fleeting touch of leather that delivers a slight roughness. Sometimes I pick up on this and other times I don’t. Sometimes I get iris, and other times I don’t.  But what I recognise as amber – that mix of benzoin, labdanum, styrax and vanilla is beautifully done here and always present.  It’s warm and enveloping.

What I really love about Ambre Fétiche that ups the ante for me and takes it to another level is the glorious smoky incense that mingles in with the amber. This is the facet that propels Ambre Fétiche to the top of my amber list.  It adds a smoky layer that weaves in and out while the ambery warmth wraps me in its enveloping flame.  The incense stays throughout with an ember’s glow that dampens to a smooth vanilla amber in the latter stages. It doesn’t have that treacly sweet or powdery aspect that many ambers have, it remains quite dry due to the incense. Sometimes I get a bit of a fizziness too which I suspect is the myrrh, which often reads this way to me. I have to say that it has a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde nature with its potent opening and its snuggly dry down.


To me this always feels like the perfect blend of a flame’s allure followed by the slow meditative burn of the embers.  I’m not one to conjure up Oriental imagery for ambers, I’ve never travelled anywhere that I would term Oriental, so for me the mood of Ambre Fétiche is resplendent with a smoky sensuality that the French do so well. Think of Charlotte Rampling with those incredible feline eyes who still has a commanding presence in her late 60’s. Witness her recent photo shoot with Nars.

lou singing

Or for a younger embodiment of this smoky allure I can imagine singer / actress / model Lou Doillon singing in a Parisian bar with her slightly gravelly voice, showcasing her androgynous look that the French gals have perfected over the years. Women come to mind when I think of Ambre Fétiche but it’s definitely a unisex perfume.

new bottle

Interestingly Annick Goutal has two types of bottles for her perfumes, the feminine curved bottles and the square-shaped masculine version. Ambre Fétiche was previously available in both bottles, however with the recent packaging consolidation is now only available in the masculine square-shaped bottles. I’m not really sure why, amber perfumes seamlessly cross the gender divide.

I also hear Nina Simone’s low-pitched velvet voice when I wear this perfume. Such a deep soulful voice with a golden warmth which is pretty much pitch perfect for this perfume. Have you heard her sing Lilac Wine? She delivers a beautiful rendition of the James Shelton song that has been covered by diverse musicians including Eartha Kitt, Jeff Buckley, Miley Cyrus and The Cinematic Orchestra. Nina Simone sings of being ‘hypnotised by a strange delight’. She is drowning her sorrows over a lost lover, drinking wine from a lilac tree as this potion slowly clouds her mind. Ambre Fétiche is the perfume that gives me a safe sort of intoxication; it’s my Lilac Wine.

Notes : Photos : Nina Simone : : Ambre Sultane : Mine : Old French postcard and old bottle version of Ambre Fétiche : cafleurebon :  Annick Goutal : Vanity Fair : Les Orientalistes : Frangratica : Klimt’s Pallas Athena : Pinterest : Ambre Fetiche : Basenotes : Charlotte Rampling : Nars : Lou Doillon : Tory Burch Blog

Review based on my own sample. Opinions my own.